Like all Bulldogs, the French Bulldog is a descendent of the ancient Molossor breeds of Europe. Originally a large and fierce type, Molossor breeds would later be shaped into a variety of modern breeds to include the various Mastiff breeds, and smaller breeds such as the American Bulldog. Further crosses with smaller breeds would eventually result in the creation of the French Bulldog. During the 19th century these dogs were highly fashionable and were sought after by society ladies and Parisian prostitutes alike, as well as creative individuals like artists, writers and fashion designers. However, as the breed was miniaturized away from its Bulldog roots to make it even more appealing, records were not kept of how this was accomplished. Although it is likely that as it changed, terrier and Pug stock may have been brought in to develop traits such as the breed's long straight ears, and the roundness of their eyes.
The first of what would become the French Bulldog originated in 19th century England. Lace makers (used to make tablecloths and doilies and in both men's and women's clothing) in Nottingham decided to make a miniature version of the English Bulldog. Nottingham had long been home to skilled lace craftsmen (indeed Samuel Peeps, whose diary of 1666 chronicling the Great Fire of London is amongst the most famous diaries in existence, makes mention of the fine work of lace makers from Nottingham in reference to his wife’s clothes) – by the mid-19th century, however, the austere manner of dress popularized by the Victorian era in England coupled with the industrial revolution drastically diminished the demand for the fragile fabric. For as long as craftsmen in Nottingham had been practicing lace they had also been breeding English Bulldogs; the lull in lace activity gave new time and new onus to breeding.
The exact origins of the migration of British Bulldogs to France that led to the creation of the French Bulldog remain a matter of debate in both the scientific and breeding communities. Some contend that lace artisans from Nottingham migrated to France, where demand for lace was still high, and brought the dogs with them. Others believe the inverse to be true; that French customers of Nottingham lace makers, visiting the region to purchase, discovered the dogs and brought them back to France.
What is known for sure is that by the late 19th century English lace makers, originally from Nottingham and settled in Brittany in the north of France, the new breed of small bulldog grew quickly in popularity in small French towns, owing both to their abilities to keep rats at bay and as pleasant family dogs. It was at this time that the first mentions arise of one of the most distinctive features of the French Bulldog – their bat-like ears.
Though some French Bulldog aficionado’s claim the dog migrated to the Paris social scene through the upper classes, the truth is that the earliest known owners of French Bulldog’s in Paris were “Belles De Nuit” (literally translating as “Women of the Night”); prostitutes. Indeed, many “French Postcards” (pictures of nude or semi-nude women) often had French Bulldogs posing with their owners. As the French Bulldog became a ubiquitous citizen of the streets of Paris they soon drew admiration from the Parisian upper crust, and where hastily adopted into the lavish folds of the wealthy. The 1880’s were a booming decade for the French Bulldog (or, as it was known in France at the time, “Boule-Dog Francais”): as the Bohemian movement led more and more Parisian’s to adopt the dog of the street walkers to show their daring; the breed arguably caused the first craze in the modern dog world.
Ever eager to keep up with the trends of fashionable Paris, rich New Yorkers soon fell in love with the little breed, and the French Bulldog made its way to American shores in the 1890’s. American lovers of the breed are often attributed with the continued success of the French Bulldog. In fact, the first specialty club for French Bulldogs and the current parent club for the breed, the French Bulldog Club of America (FBDCA) was formed in the United States on April, 5th, 1897.
Oddly enough the FBDCA was founded due to a difference in opinion between American fanciers and European fanciers regarding what constituted the proper ear shape for a French Bulldog. The majority of British and French judges viewed the French Bulldog as a toy bulldog and in so doing favored dogs with rose shaped (soft or semi-folded) ears in the show ring. While Americans, viewing the Frenchie as a unique breed and more than just a toy bulldog felt that bat ears (unfolded straight ears that stuck out) were a distinctly key element that should be present in any true French Bulldog. Neither side willing to compromise, the problem finally reached its boiling point when American breeders learned that George Raper, an English judge, had put up rose-eared Frenchies at the Westminster show in February.
In response to this slap in the face on their own soil, American breeders decided to organize the FBDCA and create a rule requiring bat ears as part of the new American breed standard; a move that was strongly criticized not only by French and English judges but also by Westminster officials. Sticking to their guns and disappointed with the fact that the 1898 Westminster show would once again feature rose-eared dogs, the FBDCA, whose members were men of wealth and prominent social standing pulled their support of the Westminster club. They instead opted to organize their own breed specialty show to be held on February 12, 1898 in the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, the first specialty show to be held in such deluxe quarters and of course rose-eared dogs were not welcomed. A smashing success the event was more than just a specialty show with its upper class ballroom atmosphere it also served to create a mixer for socialites and the upper echelons of New York’s elite and powerful. Most of which showed up.
As a result the modest little French Bulldog found itself to be the recipient of some serious press coverage and the breed was thrust into vogue. Having become a rising star in the dog breed world, the American Kennel Club (AKC) wasted no time in recognizing both the French Bulldog and the American standard that same year. The breeds popularity continued to rise throughout the late 1800’s and early 1900’s before finally reaching its peak in 1913 with the entry of 100 French Bulldogs at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York.
One unfortunate French Bulldog, “Gamin de Pycombe”, an entrant inthe 1911 competition at the Westminster Kennel Club, was aboard the Titanic when it sank. So popular were the dogs the owners had insured their pet, and recouped $21,750 for their loss. Gamin de Pycombe was not the only French Bulldog to meet with historical tragedy: two of the breed (both named “Ortipo”) were owned by Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna of Russia (second daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, the last monarch of Russia). Nikolaevna had her pets with her when, after the Bolshevik Revolution, on July 17th, 1918 the Royal Family (with the exception of the mysterious Anastasia) were herded into a small room and shot to death.
After World War II a separate line of French Bulldogs was created a hemisphere away in Australia, where breeders imported French Bulldogs from England and opened a number of Kennels. These French Bulldogs soon drew the nickname “Frenchies” from the Australian population; a nickname that spread across the globe and has become the standard short form for the breed.
In the United States the popularity of the French Bulldog was soon narrowly surpassed by the following of the Boston Terrier. Indeed, while still a relatively popular breed, ranking 21st out of 167 breeds according to the AKC’s dog registration statistics for 2010, there is no country where the Frenchie is currently the most popular small breed. That said, they do; however, maintain a loyal following of both show and companion owners, and the breed is in no danger of disappearing.
The most notable physical characteristics of the French Bulldog are its small size, a pronounced square head, a pug nose and bat-like pointed ears. Although there is not specific requirement in the Breed Standard Frenchies tend to range in height from 10 to 14 inches from the foot to shoulder, and weigh between 20 and 28 pounds. Show standards dictate that dogs over the 28 pound limit are to be disqualified. The prime physical difference between a French Bulldog and an English Bulldog lies in the head: Frenchie heads are flat, but are not nearly as large as the head of an English Bulldog, and the forehead is rounded.
French Bulldogs have a short, shiny, smooth coat. Frenchies come in a wide variety of colors including fawn, cream and brindle.They have loose, wrinkled skin at the head and shoulders. Frenchies do have a pronounced under-bite. They also have large round eyes, and their tails can be either straight or cork-screwed.
Frenchies enjoy a well-earned reputation as an ideal companion and family dog on account of their small size, friendliness, playfulness and enjoyment. Frenchies require relatively little formal exercise, though caution should be taken in hot weather. As companion dogs Frenchies crave attention, and can be mischievous at times. Even a well-trained Frenchie needs regular interaction and play with their owner.
Frenchies are not easy to train. Stubborn by nature and easily bored, the breed can prove a challenge to even the most seasoned trainer. To garner the best results it is advisable to train a Frenchie in short sessions, and upon achieving the desired result in a given session praise and treat the dog. Shouting, disciplining or scolding a Frenchie will likely cause them to simply lose interest in the activity. House training is a long, drawn out process with a French Bulldog; taking up to six months to fully train them. As such many breeders recommend crating a Frenchies for the duration of their house-training.
Importantly, Frenchies are not, on account of their genetic history, outdoor dogs - they simply not built to survive even in the “suburban wild”. French Bulldogs, if properly introduced, can live easily with other breeds. They are extremely affection, and very protective of children. Though playful by nature and not a highly territorial breed, Frenchies, like all dogs, can misinterpret situations and seek to defend themselves; as a smaller animals play with larger dogs should be monitored. As with all breeds of dog it is up to the parents to ensure that play between dogs and smaller children closely supervised to prevent the dog from acting out if it is placed in a situation where the dog feels it is being hurt and/or needs to defend itself. Though a Frenchie is unlikely to inflict serious damage, on account of both size and temperament, unnecessary altercations can leave lasting emotional scars.
Though by and large an easy dog to groom that requires relatively little attention, a number of physical characteristics unique to the French Bulldog require specialized action. Their short, smooth and brilliant hair is extremely easy to care for, but their open bat like ears should be cleaned regularly; their ears are prone to infections, which can be extremely malodorous.
The skin folds under the eyes of the French bulldog should be cleaned regularly and kept dry. Tear stains are common on lighter-colored dogs.
Aside from those specialty requirements, Frenchies are easy to maintain. Indeed one can even bathe a Frenchie in a sink, and the dogs temperament typically makes such an exercise an easy one. A monthly clipping of the toenail is advised, as well as brushing of the teeth.
A well cared for Frenchie can be expected to live between ten and twelve years. The breeding history of the Frenchie as a miniature dog accounts for two potential health risks: heat stroke and spinal issues. The compacted airway of the Frenchie can make it difficult for the dog to regulate heat (as dogs do not have sweat glands, and pant to maintain an even temperature). As such they should be protected from sever heat, and always have access to fresh water and shade. The spine of the French Bulldog is prone to chondrodysplasia; indeed many informed breeders levy that dogs should be medically examined for spinal anomalies before they are bred, as the issue is hereditary.
French Bulldogs can suffer from a number of maladies involving the eyes, includingglaucoma, retinal fold dysplasia, corneal ulcers and juvenile Screening of prospective breeding candidates through the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (known as CERF) can help to eliminate instances of these diseases.
Many French Bulldog dogs are incapable of naturally breeding owing to their very slim hips, which makes the male unable to mount the female. French bulldogs frequently require caesarean section to give birth, with over 80% of litters undergoing the procedure.Female French Bulldogs can also suffer from erratic heats; possibly a side effect of thyroid disease or impaired thyroid function.
Frenchies may also develop the following: